A response to Anastasia

A couple of days ago over at Clashing Culture, Anastasia wrote a piece entitled, What ID should focus on (take 2).  As the title emplies, this is her 2nd try at addressing her thoughts about reconciling faith with science. You can read her 1st article and my response here.

As I really hate to leave really long comments on other people’s blogs, and as the topic does fit in my recent string of posts concerning epistemology, I thought I would respond to her post here as a separate post.

Anastasia,

I appreciate your taking another run at this issue. However, while I agree in principle with a couple of things you have said, on the whole I find your understanding of Christianity to be quite naive, and think you’ve made some fundamental errors.

First, you, like many other people, are using the terms “ID” and “Creationism” synonymously when they really refer to 2 very different types of thinking. Both Creationists and ID proponents will bristle at this confusion. To you they may seem the same, but without recognizing the difference you will never be able to communicate your thoughts properly.  Creationists, as the word is generally used today, refers to people who believe the Genesis account to the exclusion of any sort of evolutionary path of mankind. The term is broad enough to include many who do accept various forms of evolution, as well as the fundamentalists you refer to in your post.  Creationism is a theological position, not a scientific one.

On the other hand (and I know you will take issue with this to some extent, but that’s another issue), the Discovery Institute and other ID proponents are not approaching the issue from a theological position. There are fellows at the Discovery Institute who are not Christians, and for that matter, are not even Deists. They take issue with various forms of evolutionary theories based on data, not theology. You can disagree with how they address the data, but as I said, that’s a different issue. Many who are considered IDists include those who believe in evolution in some forms, including common descent. Again, the term is broad, but the along a wholly different continuum than “Creationism.”

You have indicated that you find literal Creationism scary, because, as you state, you worry about children who “learn some biblical interpretation instead of reality.” Certainly, that is your position as a materialist. However, “reality” is a philosophical term.  There are many scientists (I know some) who would argue with your concept of reality. Obviously, as you point out, you can be a scientiest without being a materialist, which brings me to another point:

You accuse the Discovery Institute of trying to kill “science as we know it, which they equate with materialism.”  No, and yes.  “Science as you know it” would be what is often called “scientific materialism,” “philosophical materialism,” or “scientism.”  It is the belief – unprovable, at that – that there is no other reality outside of the material world. The Discovery Institute is opposed to this philosophy which has become wedded to science. As you have indicated your feelings about the Discovery Institute’s article, The “Wedge Document:” “So What?”, I would be very interested in hearing exactly what it is you find so scary there.

The point of your article was to address how these ID proponents should address current congregants and potential congregants. First, you make the error in assuming that the ID folks are in a sense “evangelical” as it relates to the Church.  Actually, it isn’t. It’s not religion, and while there are a number of Christians who are interested in the topic, we don’t confuse it with theology.  I would guess that the vast majority of Christians, including those who went to see “Expelled,” still don’t know who or what the Discovery Institute is, and don’t rightly care.

Now, here’s where I will wholeheartedly agree with you: those fundamentalists who have extremist and irrational views, as well-meaning as they may be, are dangerous.  I’ve been working to undo damage they’ve done for many, many years, and not dealing with the Creation v Evolution issue; that is a meaningless side issue, as far as I’m concerned. The fundamentalist, ultra-right-wing wacko contingent are, in my opinion, misrepresenting the Gospel, and messing people up.  If you read Galatians, the Apostle Paul was incensed at the legalists (the same basic issue) who tried to mess up the Galatian church, and suggested that they either be castrated or told to go to hell. If you don’t believe me, go read it yourself. It’s quite entertaining.

I also agree with you that to teach that science is evil is doing people a disservice. Science is merely a tool – it may be limited in what it can prove or disprove, but it is a decent tool nonetheless, and it was developed with the help of many good Catholics.  I will take issue, however, that the public schools teach children critical thinking skills. I’m conspiracist enough to believe that what passes for critical thinking is more often than not brain-washing. My wife is a public school elementary teacher, so I’ve a little knowledge there.

I will also agree with you that it is important for people to properly reconcile their faith with science (and, I would add, history, philosophy, etc.), and I will deal with that further in an upcoming post.  For far too many years, Christians were expected to keep their faith a “private matter” and never even tried to help people apply their faith to the “Gestalt” of their life.  However, you are quite naive in your assumption that Christians in general have an issue with “forcing religion to fit inside a scientific argument.” Here, as I’ve said before, you really should get out more. There’s obviously a whole lot more going on in the contemporary church than you realize.

Now, your closing, encouraging us to “stay within our lanes” seems to contradict this reconciliation you just proposed. Science and religion are indeed “different animals.” However, they are not totally distinct, and never were – until scientific materialism tried to make them distinct.  This is not a scientific argument, this is entirely philosophical.  Science, as you say, cannot disprove that which is undetectable, at least by scientific methods. Here, you are more perceptive than folks like Richard Dawkins and Victor Stenger.  Science by definition is limited to that which is observable, repeatable, and measurable. However, that says absolutely nothing about that which is outside the realm of science.

Your statement that “neither will religion be able to prove that god exists, except through faith” is correct in that, as you state, it is “far removed from the scientific method.” However, I think you are using the term “faith” pejoratively.  There is a great deal of evidence for the Christian “faith.”  I am not one of those who believes that one can “prove” anything; even believing that 2+2=4 has an element of faith. In fact, believing that the scientific method can provide reliable data takes faith.

I truly appreciate your willingness to address these issues in such a thoughtful manner, and encourage you to explore these issues a bit more. And, I’m serious: I would like to hear in detail why you feel the way you do about the Discovery Institute article.

4 thoughts on “A response to Anastasia”

  1. “This works fine for children until they start making their own chocolate milk. 2 scoops of powder and 2 scoops of milk make … wait, that can’t be! Their faith in math now crumbles. Then we have to teach them about chemistry, as our initial belief is often not exactly true.”

    This is a classic example of the poor thinking that is evidenced outside science (and mathematics, for that matter).

    2+2=4 works when using pebbles because 2 pebbles plus 2 pebbles = 4 pebbles. It’s using things that are the SAME.

    However, your example of 2 scoops of powder + 2 scoops of milk is not analogous – this uses things that are NOT the same – and it is equivalent to saying 2x + 2y = 4 (wait, that can’t be!).

    At which point you don’t teach chemistry, you teach ALGEBRA!

  2. I’m looking forward to discussing this with you. I’ve a lot of lab work over the next few days so I plan to form a response during the incubation steps.

    I’ll say for now that I agree that ID and Creationism are different, but the difference is only in degree, not in kind. Both are essentially different from science in that they look at the world with the preconception that some being, this designer, exists. Science has no preconceptions, and it can not have preconceptions. The body of scientific theories was developed painstakingly based on observation, is constantly tested and changed if enough evidence presents itself. How can we have this process if we must include things that can not be tested in our theories? That’s not science. Period.

  3. With 2+2=4, at some point, whether the 2nd time playing with pebbles or the 50th, you must decide that you have enough evidence to decide that this is a truism. Belief that 2 things + 2 more things = 4 things is, at some point, a choice.

    This works fine for children until they start making their own chocolate milk. 2 scoops of powder and 2 scoops of milk make … wait, that can’t be! Their faith in math now crumbles. Then we have to teach them about chemistry, as our initial belief is often not exactly true.

    I am not redefining faith; faith is trust in something you’ve chosen to believe. The issue is not what faith is, but what kind of evidence you are looking for. You remind me of the story of the man adrift at sea who prays and believes that God will miraculously save him. A man in a sailboat comes by and offers to rescue him, but the man insists that God will save him, and he waves the boat on. A few days later a helicopter flies over and drops a ladder, but again the main waves him on. Days later in desperation, the man cries out to God, “Why don’t you save me?” A voice from Heaven replies, “I sent you a boat and a helicopter; what more do you want?”

    Again, the question is not faith, the question is what you accept as evidence.

  4. I’ll tell you quickly and succinctly why Creationism/ID are not so easily separated:

    1. In dealing with their denial of naturalistic evolution, they use the same methods, denial of fact and evidence, misuses of probability and goal-post shifting.
    2. They don’t do any science, and yet claim to understand science better than the people who do. Witness Casey Luskin on the tiktaalik telling Schubin he was wrong.
    3. John C. West has been caught deliberately quote-mining Darwin to try to prove that Darwinism is responsible for eugenics.
    4. Michael Behe is deliberately mis-stating the development of malaria and human response to it.
    5. They aren’t doing science. They are conducting a culture war.

    I’m not so concerned about what their religious beliefs are. I can co-exist. Their purpose is to weaken the process of teaching science, which you correctly point out is weak enough all ready. There are DI fingerprints all over the new Louisiana Law.

    You are twisting the concept of faith to suit your purposes. The faith that you talk about in your 2+2=4 is quite different than the faith in a being that no one has ever touched, tasted, felt or tested. I can test 2+2=4 with pebbles, over and over and over again finding the same answer every time. How is this the same concept as faith in God?

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